Electoral Form Guide: Willis
Margin: Labor 22.4%
Location: North-Western Melbourne, Victoria
In a nutshell: Wills provided a comfortable home for Bob Hawke throughout a parliamentary career that lasted from 1980 to 1991, but was lost to independent Phil Cleary when he retired after being deposed as Prime Minister. The seat has returned to its safe Labor ways since Kelvin Thomson recovered it in 1996.
Electorate analysis: Wills was created in 1949 around the northern Melbourne suburb of Coburg, which has remained in the electorate ever since. The only interruption to Labor control in its early years came with the Labor split, which resulted in member William Bryson contesting the 1955 election under the ALP (Anti-Communist) banner. His successor Gordon Bryant served as Aboriginal Affairs Minister in the Whitlam government, bequeathing the seat to Bob Hawke on his retirement in 1980.
Hawke’s resignation after he lost the leadership to Paul Keating in December 1991 provided an early electoral test for the new Keating government, which it failed disastrously: in a record field of 22 candidates, local Aussie Rules identity Phil Cleary outpolled the Labor candidate 33.5 per cent to 29.4 per cent, enjoying a landslide 15.7 per cent win after preferences. This result was declared void the following November when the High Court ruled Cleary was disqualified from running, on the grounds that his job as a teacher constituted “an office of profit under the Crown”. The imminence of the 1993 election meant no new by-election was held, but Cleary was able to narrowly recover the seat at the general election by a margin of 2.4 per cent. Cleary’s position was weakened by the redistribution ahead of the 1996 election, and the seat returned to the Labor fold with an easy win for their candidate Kelvin Thomson.
Thomson is a member of the Labor Unity (Right) faction who entered state parliament as member for Pascoe Vale in 1988, serving in the shadow ministry after the 1992 election defeat. A year after entering federal parliament he was elevated to the shadow ministry, serving in portfolios including environment and regional development. He resigned from the front bench in March 2007 when it emerged he had given a reference to colourful Melbourne identity Tony Mokbel. Since then he has chiefly been noted for advocating lower the migration rate to reduce the risk of terrorism.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.